10 BYU Football Players Who Will Benefit The Most From Bowl Practices
PROVO, Utah – With Sunday’s bowl game announcements, BYU officially knows they will be taking on the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.
But the Cougars already had a jumpstart on bowl practices. Last week, the Cougars had three practices in advance of knowing who their opponent would be.
Head coach Kalani Sitake has been vocal about the importance of bowl season because of the additional practices. In a lot of ways, it’s the equivalent to another spring practice session. Which can be valuable for young players. BYU’s roster is filled with underclassmen so any additional practice time is invaluable for a young team looking to improve.
Bowl practices give teams the opportunity to project and evaluate for the future, so let’s take a look here on KSL Sports at the 10 BYU football players who will benefit the most from bowl practices.
Zach Wilson, Quarterback
Any talk and discussion of Zach Wilson getting benched are premature right now. Wilson is still BYU’s number one quarterback. But no one would argue that Wilson has to improve from the three points BYU’s offense put up against San Diego State.
The lack of points raised questions on whether or not Wilson is fully recovered from the thumb injury he suffered in September and later had surgery on the following month. Wilson told KSL Sports that he is fully recovered from his thumb injury when asked if he was 100 percent.
Despite the thumb injury and recovery from shoulder surgery last January, Wilson has is pleased with his mental growth over the course of this season. But he’s ready to keep progressing.
“No excuses, but it is going to be a huge difference this offseason to be able to just regroup and gain some weight and get stronger and get in those extra reps,” said Wilson.
In eight games played this season, Wilson has thrown for 2,108 yards and completed 63 percent of his passes with an 11-7 touchdown-interception ratio. Solid numbers but still a lot of room to grow for Wilson in the offense and that’s where the bowl practices will be valuable in his development.
Jaren Hall, Quarterback
This month has already been an eventful one for Hall as he got over married over the weekend to his wife, Breanna. Hall is cleared to practice right now but Kalani Sitake did not give any official announcement on Jaren Hall’s in-game availability for the Hawaii Bowl. The redshirt freshman quarterback who started in two games this season began practicing leading up to the San Diego State game.
In Hall’s two starts, he showed playmaker abilities but with his arm and his legs. The only issue was that he wasn’t able to finish either game due to concussions.
Getting Hall healthy and back to 100-percent makes the bowl practices valuable for him and the depth the Cougars have available in their quarterback room.
Jackson McChesney, Running Back
The true freshman running back was a mysterious absence in the Cougars’ loss against San Diego State. One week prior, McChesney ran for 228 yards against UMass which was the sixth most rushing yards in a game by a BYU player.
McChesney has an opportunity to be one of BYU’s top running backs in 2020. With Ty’Son Williams’ medical hardship waiver with the NCAA up in the air, BYU will need to find a feature running back next season.
Keanu Hill, Wide Receiver
A few weeks ago, Keanu Hill’s play caught the eye of head coach Kalani Sitake. A native of Bedford, Texas, Hill was lightly recruited coming out of Trinity High School due to the run-heavy offense they ran. BYU coaches believe they have a potential star in the making with Hill who stands at 6’4″ and has excellent bloodlines with his father Lloyd Hill and uncle Roy Williams who both played in the NFL.
After the Hawaii Bowl, BYU loses their top three wide receivers due to graduation, the door will be wide open for Hill to compete as a number one receiver next season.
Neil Pau’u, Wide Receiver
Pau’u was suspended this season after being arrested for impaired driving this past June. Weeks later, Pau’u pleaded guilty to reduced charges and received probation from Provo City court. Throughout the season, Pau’u has been with the team and he started practicing in October.
Like Hill, Pau’u will have an opportunity in 2020 to be one of BYU’s top receivers next season. In his career, Pau’u has posted 32 receptions for 355 yards and three touchdowns.
Carter Wheat, Tight End
The freshman tight end will be redshirting this season as he has only played in one game this season. Many around the program are high on the potential of Wheat in future seasons. That future might need to come to fruition in 2020 if talented junior Matt Bushman declares for the NFL Draft after the bowl game.
Wheat’s father, Warren Wheat, was a standout offensive lineman for BYU in the late 1980s and it’s no surprise that young Carter has been praised for his blocking ability at tight end.
Blake Freeland, Offensive Tackle
The rise of Blake Freeland has been one of the more interesting developments this season. A former Herriman High quarterback, Freeland has only played in six games in his life as an offensive lineman. All six have come during his true freshman season this year at BYU and all six appearances have been as the starting right tackle.
Coming out of high school, Freeland was a three-star recruit by 247Sports and was classified as an “athlete.” For his size, Freeland is many ways a freak athlete and he’s only scratching the surface of what he could become as an offensive lineman.
Atunaisa Mahe, Nose Guard
With Khyiris Tonga likely headed to the NFL Draft, BYU will have a huge void to replace along their defensive line. That’s where redshirt freshman Atunaisa Mahe steps in.
Mahe a 6-1 307-pound nose guard in BYU’s defense has racked up 20 tackles this season and also has a sack and two tackles for loss. One of BYU’s better defensive linemen at getting in the backfield and creating havoc. Mahe will need to take a big step forward in potentially replacing Tonga.
Ben Bywater, Linebacker
BYU’s linebackers entered the season as a big question mark, but now it’s evolved into a deep and talented group that looks to be one of the strengths of BYU’s program in 2020. Along with bringing back Isaiah Kaufusi, Kavika Fonua, Payton Wilgar, Keenan Pili, the Cougars also will have Ben Bywater. Bywater is redshirting this season, but he’s been one of the stars on the Cougars scout team this year.
Pepe Tanuvasa, Linebacker
Another linebacker to watch in 2020 that has been turning heads on the scout team is Navy transfer Pepe Tanuvasa. Tanuvasa has been a walk-on this season but is expected to receive a scholarship. Tanuvasa projects to be an inside linebacker in BYU’s 3-4 alignments.
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.